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Helping Kids See Past Commercialism

by Tiffany in Children

A little girl walking in the woods

Childhood obesity is at an all time high and kids are killing each other over the newest technical gadget or fashion craze. Are these the after effects of too much commercialism? TV is encouraging a sedentary lifestyle that is seeing our kids developing habits that foster obesity.

Not only are TV programs monopolizing our children’s attention and imagination (or what’s left of it) but the commercials are too. Even if a child eventually loses interest in a program he’s watching the commercials keep him glued with boisterous messages and music promoting products and an image of what is hip or cool today.

Commercialism is everywhere making it very hard for parents to control. Visit your nearest theater and you are bombarded by commercials for the first 20 minutes of the show. Large companies “buy” placement in the movies and television shows to make their products look cool. I suspect cigarette companies do this. Commercialism is also in our schools and in “sponsored” educational materials sometimes given to our kids. I recently read about one school system that had McDonald’s coupons on the report cards. But what if you don’t want your children to accept blindly that these institutions and products are beneficial to us? How do we keep these values from infiltrating our households?

While this may seem monumental parents can play a significant and role in keeping commercialism at bay for their kids. Here are some ideas:

  • Teach by example. If you resist consumerism you will be able to teach with conviction to your kids the merits of resisting consumerism.
  • Sew your kids clothing and teach them to sew as well. This eliminates the logos and brands issues associated with store bought clothes and it teaches kids a valuable craft. Kids might also find they have a talent for designing. At 16 years old I remember making myself a vintage gown from a 1940s war era pattern. It is gorgeous and people raved over it…there was nothing like it available at stores and I LOVED that. Don’t sew? Take classes…at your local fabric store….its never too late. Your kids could also take classes.
  • Try turning off the TV for a week. Then try 2 weeks. Then have a discussion about the merits of having a TV when quality news and entertainment can be obtained elsewhere. I follow and unschooling philosophy as far as TV and movies go. I don’t have restrictions or limits but yet we don’t watch that much TV…the key is to provide alternatives that are vastly more fun and entertaining.
  • Expose kids to other media – like art/surrealist films, art exhibits, public lectures on topics that might interest them. We are BIG on art in my house. We have all the supplies I could need for just about any project. This week my oldest painted a half dozen beautiful landscapes, he made several 3-D pictures, a Mardi Gras style mask for me, and a Pinata for his Dad for father’s day. All I did was supply him with the means. I have had to cover his bedroom floor in cheap scrap carpets because the paint gets EVERYWHERE!
  • Teach your children to be independent thinkers who do not follow. Visit your local library and introduce them to great people in history who were independent thinkers (develop your own list based on your heroes or talk to the librarian). This is one reason I have such issues with public schools. The teachers generally don’t like independent thought and being challenged by their students…even in first grade I can already see this. Even in art class my son tells me the teacher has rules about the techniques one uses to paint or color…WTH? There are certainly some great teachers out there but there are also plenty of bad ones with control issues. I don’t want my children to “conform” or be “conditioned”. This is why I encourage freedom of expression in our home and we don’t get hung up on societal expectations or arbitrary rules.
  • Encourage your kids to get involved in creative play. Introduce them to great outdoor games like hopscotch, four-square, hide and seek, double-dutch skipping, jumping rope, dodge ball, soccer and a host of other neighborhood games that will keep your kids busy and “physically active” for hours. The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls are good places to start looking for ideas.
  • Grow your own food and involve your kids. Discuss the strong connections in the natural world and how our actions impact them. Most kids haven’t a clue about where food comes from and why 80% of what you find at the grocery store doesn’t even resemble real food.
  • Encourage your kids to think about social issues outside of themselves. Help them to be empathetic and to have concern for the needs of the most vulnerable in your community. Discuss ways in which your family can help out a person in need. Go through the house and put together a bag of food items that you can take to the local food bank.

  • This is AWESOME! I love that photo what a statement!
    I have been so convicted lately with the tv. Been thinking of cutting down our cable to the bare minimum and finding more things to do outside. We have a garden and it is doing so well that I am inspired to make an even bigger one. Definately can’t have time to watch tv when there are weeds to pull and bugs to pick off the leaves of plants!!! :) Thanks for the inspiration yet again…

    Sarahs last blog post..My Green Baby!

  • this is a fabulous post. i think it’s so important to teach our kids about the quality of the companies from which we buy/support, etc. what are their business practices, and how does that impact our lives? i also use advertising as an opportunity to talk about what’s really important and what are these advertisers trying to do to/for us…there are some heavy lessons here. did you do that photo? it makes such a powerful statement, i love it.

    phylliss last blog post..Aren’t they cute?

  • Phyllis, its not my picture…cool though isn’t it?

  • Ted

    We have toys coming out the wazoo and Susannah likes maybe three or four of them. What she really likes is my keys. Even at fourteen months she is asking Daddy for the keys!

  • Amy

    I’m shouting a big “Amen!” to this post! I’m preggo with my first little one, and these are values I hope to instill in him. Thanks for all the great tips and encouragement. Keep ’em coming!

    Amys last blog post..Magic (and not so magic) Beanstalks

  • Great ideas. My son is almost two and we don’t do branded toys or clothing (aside from the occasional stuff someone buys at a yard sale).

    I don’t know about sewing our own clothes, but rock on to those that do. I tried to sew in high school and it was a waste of fabric.

    Nicole J.s last blog post..The Kid in Me…

  • The photo totally got my attention. Here’s my word for the day: moderation! I don’t really think that turning the t.v. off for the week is necessary if you don’t have it on 24/7 or that you have to sew your own kids clothes to not buy into commercialism. I think you have to strike a balance for your family and your lifestyle. Not that this is easy to do. Great tips, pointers and examples. Again, the photo rocks.

    sommers last blog post..To My Son: Confessions, Apologies & Many Eco-Friendly Wishes

  • Julie FB

    I loved this article! I totally agree that there is far too much commercialism going on in our world. I’m a university student and new mom, and one of the recent topics of one of my classes was about not buying in to commercialism. Not only is there an economic benefit to minimizing commercialism, but the lessons it teaches children are amazing. Teaching chilren to sew their own clothes isn’t just about cutting costs, it leads to an opportunity to teach children life skills and to enjoy quality time and fosters creativity. I loved the suggestions in this article! Keep them coming!

  • THIS IS GREAT!! It is nice to know that there are moms on the same page. It seems like all the moms I come across are so focused on designer clothes and how toys their children have. Thanks!!!

    Renecas last blog post..Start chores while they are young!

  • Great post! Thank you so much for sharing this, definitely some great ideas for parents to consider.

    Summers last blog post..Biking With A Buddy

  • Deborah

    Amen to your post. We are working hard to keep our children out of the materialism cult. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Deborahs last blog post..more May long

  • Jenny

    I love the picture. And yes, I agree with everything you said. Great post!

    Jennys last blog post..Strawberry Delight

  • PreSchool Mama

    Lovely post! I agree with everything you said, 100 percent. Where I live, crass commercialism is just beginning to take root, and we can already see its effects all around us – obese, spoiled kids, greed in children. Stumbled ya, and I’ll be back again!

    PreSchool Mamas last blog post..How to Make Model Towns and Farms with Your PreSchooler

  • Betsy

    Sounds like you are the perfect candidate for homeschooling!!

  • Amazing post! You shared some excellent suggestions!

    Thanks! : ]

    Jennas last blog post..Time to Gear Up on Your 10-Speed

  • Lisa @ Corporate Babysitter

    Terrific post and terrific advice for parents. Thank you!

    Lisa @ Corporate Babysitters last blog post..The Lolita Effect, or, Yes, Virginia, little girls really are sexualized by the media

  • Awesome post (and pic!!) Thank you so much for sharing. I agree with you 100% and think that kids just sit and vege too much these days! We hardly ever turn our tv on and I am already sewing a lot of my daughters clothing. I’m hoping she will pick up sewing later on too. She’s 14 months now and already love playing with the fabric scraps :)

    Rhyahs last blog post..Brown and Aqua Bubble Dots Crayon Caddy – 16 washable crayons included

  • Bravo!! I am totally in agreement that kids need to escape from all the commercialism around them. In fact, that was one of the best things that happened as a result of our 12-month bicycle ride back in 2006-07.

    We spent a year bicycling around the USA and Mexico with our (then) 8-year-old twin boys and it was a fabulous experience. Our boys learned real quickly that they couldn’t buy any toys because we couldn’t carry them on the bikes – they had to make do with Mother Nature’s toys (sticks, stones, rocks, and pinecones) and they had waayyyy more fun than they ever did with storebought toys!

    Now we are getting ready to take off again – this time to ride from Alaska to Argentina. I can’t wait to see how that ride changes my boys!

    You can read about our journey at

  • chelle

    I have come by this blog a few times, but this post has hooked me completely…I enjoyed this article SO MUCH. We do not watch tv. Once every few days my daughter will watch a dvd for an hour but that is it, even that is not a priority anymore. Most people think we are crazy to do it this way. And some days I am exhausted, then other days as I watch her play and use her imagination, I am so grateful that commercialism is not influencing her like so many others.

    chelles last blog post..Welcome to Canada

  • Carrie

    You posted that picture of me and Sadie again. :-)

    Great post. I try to teach my kids how marketers try to sell them on the message that they will be happier if they buy the product. It seems to be sinking in because my boys were talking recently about how commercials lie to you so you’ll buy stuff. lol!

    Definitely keeping the TV off (especially commercialized TV) has been a big part of that in my home.

    Carries last blog post..Salad Saturday!

  • Brenna

    Great post! That photo really got me, but I loved everything that you said.My kids are still pretty young, but I try to do most of the thing you mentioned (I do not sew).

    We did the TV Turnoff Week back in April and it was a real eye opener for me to see how much my kids love to watch tv, and we don’t even watch that much and nothing with commercials. My oldest son is always interested in print ads, though… something I hadn’t considered as much.

    Brennas last blog post..What a week (or two)…

  • I can’t wait to homeschool and travel the world with my kids. :)

  • Aleksandar healthy man :)

    “Teach by example.” is a great and a must tip, I would say.

    Aleksandar healthy man :)s last blog post..How to treat an electrical disorder of the heart

  • A worthy cause and great tips. One of the reasons we moved to Mozambique when Esme was 6 weeks old . . . The photo you used was great!

    Janes last blog post..Causes

  • I just Stumbled your site (thumbs up) and had to comment on this picture. Really fabulous. I can’t wait to really dive in to your posts!

    Shannons last blog post..Schedules, Stress and Babies

  • that girl

    These are great tips. The tv subject really rings true with me. Growing up I spent my summers with my grandmother and she and I would garden and explore and grocery shop (people raised in the depression era do a WHOLE different kind of grocery shopping than most of us) and I just had more fun with her. We had quality time and experiences. I look back on my childhood and I vividly remember these experiences – I do not, however, remember all the episodes of cartoons that I watched over the years.

    At our house we don’t limit tv either – we just turn it off when it’s time to get up and go outside.. Aside from a new movie or something, my children would much rather go outside than sit in front of the tv. I truly believe exercise (not the sit-ups kind – the fun, running through the sprinkler kind) is the key to solving childhood obesity..and probably many other health issues. I’ve read that sun exposure (a little here and there) boosts your immune system. Anyway, love your site – and thanks for the good tips.

    that girls last blog post..What’s the point?… Really?

  • Excellent post! I would also recommend Center for a New American Dream (, which is an excellent organization and has a lot of material on this – simplifying the holidays, doing things during the summer, etc.

    We’re mostly power-of-example people (we don’t watch commercial TV, we buy very little in the way of “name” or “designer” brands) but I’ve been thinking we need to be a little bit more proactive explaining our philosophy to the kids, for when they get sneered at for wearing clothes from Target.

    rebmotis last blog post..Kids and commercialism

  • I admit I enjoy shopping–but we also keep the TV off while baby is awake (and if she sees it on somewhere, she likes to turn it off, which can be a guilty pleasure when someone is trying to watch the last minutes of a game) and I try to always show her farms and crafts fairs and talk to people in front of her about how they make the food and the items and the art.

    What amazes me is the grief I catch for it and the attempts at sabotaging it. I get remarks like, “You’re depriving her.” (Of what, she doesn’t even know what the TV is?)

    I don’t criticize other people’s choices–so it drives me nuts when others try to justify their decisions by belittling mine.

    You have a great list here and some wonderful ideas.

    Mama Luxes last blog post..Taking the Plunge

  • I was thinking – try not to leave it too late with kids in getting them interested in more than just TV. Kids tend to like to copy parents, so if you play a sport, your kids will love being able to join in. Kids often like stuff they can do with you more than stuff on their own – sharing is cool. So take them out on bike rides, play football, whatever, but keep trying if necessary until you find something they love. Because in reality, TV sucks compared to fun outdoor stuff, or fun indoor stuff like cooking, crafts etc. Our kids seem not to be interested in becoming consumers. I give most credit to my wife as she does loads of fun stuff with them – some of which they find cool just because it’s with Mum. If I take them out somewhere when I have time, they seem really to appreciate it, whereas time infront of the TV doesn’t satisfy them, it’s just ‘easy’. My son has obviously picked up on the fact that life isn’t about constantly getting stuff – he will often look at the price of things if we offer to pay for something & pick the cheapest. He’ll say, “no the other one’s too expensive”.
    So, be firm, but be encouraged that kids love to ‘do’ more than they love to ‘get’. They just need some help finding stuff to do sometimes.

  • Katherine

    We hooked up the antenna for the election. That’s the first time in 2 years that the TV was hooked up to any signal. I really haven’t missed it much.

    My harder fight is “disposable.” I hate that. Of course you can throw anything “away” after one use. But where is “away?” When I was in 4th grade we took a field trip to a landfill with my GT class. That smell…the piles of garbage…something about it hit me really hard. The area we’ve moved to, though, makes it difficult to reduce your waste. I’ve finally convinced my grocery store just not to bag my groceries at all, and I bag them myself at the car, because they got so hopelessly confused about cloth bags. Consuming even something like a plastic bag needs to be something to think about.

  • Heather

    Do you have a post on what to do when you can homeschool?
    I worry about My Daughter (who starts school next fall) I dont want her to be part of the consumer “flock”…Yet I am not confident in my ability to teach my children…

    Thank you for this wonderful Post, I cant wait to read more of your articals.

  • I’ve recently started limiting t.v. to under 30 minutes per day. At first this was hard for my 3.5 year old (and for my husband) but now my son is not even asking for t.v. at all….unless urged by dh! lol… its working out great and I’m seeing less frustration and “melt-downs” in my son than when he was glued to the television (much to my dismay).

    In our household we are conscious consumers, we don’t purchase anything we don’t need, however I have notice my son being CAPTIVATED and even knowing the words to entire commercials!!! particularly one for “spacebags” he says “too much stuff, not enough space!” and then he tells me we need to buy spacebags. Pretty fitting actually, we don’t have much stuff because we don’t have much room!

    Anyway, GREAT article and thanks for all the useful links for my active boy to stay active and not turn into a couch potato!!!

  • Shaeded

    I love this article! It is almost exactly what we live by in our home. We went to a civil war re-enactment in the fall that was fabulous. We read a lot, never watch tv but movies are a habit. We do try to watch insightful, educational movies often. We recently watched Johnny Tremain and *I* loved it as much as the kids! As it warms up we will be gardening, going to the farmer’s market, playing and so much more! My son really wants to get creative with our wooden playset and build an extended will be a blast to give him the freedom to do it!

  • This is a great post – thank you!

    I actually went to a semi-strict Christian college that didn’t (gasp!) allow TV outside of 1 designated TV room.

    Ever since then I could pretty much care less about watching TV…I got used to not having it and I often find it boring when I do catch it on somewhere. We don’t have cable and I would love to move the TV down to the basement (hubby plays video games and we do watch movies on occasion)…I just don’t like it being the focal point of the room. We’ll see if I can get hubby to budge on that. :)

    I would love to learn how to sew but it’s sure a work in progress! One thing I do like to do is go to garage sales and goodwill-type stores for things – if stuff does happen to still have labels at least it’s being recycled. I do know a few people who won’t have anything unless it’s brand new with a brand name – I think there’s a lot of value in teaching kids that it’s OK (and good!) to have used things, too! :)

    Thanks again…I am bookmarking this for when my little one is a little older.

  • Celine Griffin

    Isn’t there great irony in the fact you have sponsors and advertizements on your blog?

    • I don’t think so. I think there is such a thing as ethical consumerism and voting with your dollars for the world you want. Sadly the type of things marketed to children fail on all counts.